Birth of a YouTube Star

It seems that you can't always believe what you see in cyberspace. This morning's Wall Street Journal details how last week's signing of YouTube star Marie Digby by Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Hollywood Records was actually the culmination of a carefully orchestrated online marketing strategy. See, the label actually signed Digby two years ago. Her debut album was recorded last year, but the label wasn't in a hurry to release it without stirring up a little buzz first.

The CD market is tricky even with established recording stars, much less with a virtual unknown. So earlier this year, Disney furnished Digby with an i-Movie-stocked Mac and a plan. From home, she would record acoustic covers of well-known songs, post them on Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) YouTube, and let the court of viral video opinion dictate her fate.

It worked. After three months and 17 videos that have had her covering everyone from Incubus to Linkin Park, Digby is a YouTube sensation. With more than 11,000 subscribers to her channel, she's No. 25 on the list of most popular musicians. That finds her topping the likes of Weird Al Yankovic and fellow Hollywood Records recording star Hilary Duff.

If you can't Barnum, burn 'em
Digby isn't happy, though. Her latest MySpace blog entry rips into Journal reporters Ethan Smith and Peter Lattman for cherry-picking quotes out of context and making her out to be the next scripted incarnation of Lonelygirl15.

"The guy's angle is this: that I am a complete phony and fake and a pawn of my record label in some brilliant marketing scheme," she fumes. "Is this guy completely insane?"

Digby eventually cools down and accepts that it's her "first taste of what media might be like." Once she cools down even more, I think she may come to actually appreciate being the subject of a front-page story in a major publication. With a digital EP due out next week, and her cover of Rihanna's "Umbrella" selling brisky on Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iTunes, even bad publicity can be good publicity.

And who said this is bad publicity, anyway?

The Journal piece isn't exactly negative. It does credit Disney's marketing muscle with bankrolling her studio recordings, getting her on the radio, and booking her on Carson Daly's show. It notes that her label consulted with her on the strategy to post mostly cover songs as a way to get her noticed on the site, but Digby picked the songs and recorded the videos herself.

Obviously, you don't even get signed to a major label if you don't have talent, and Digby has been winning over a fan base by playing live shows for years. Her presence on News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) MySpace dates all the way back to 2004, with fans gushing over her "Miss Invisible" song, months before she turned heads at Disney.

She's the real deal, though she may want to temper her media venom in the future. Calling reporters schmucks and losers isn't all that endearing, especially when it's belted out in a blog rant that is devoid of her velvety smooth vocal stylings.

I'm going to Disneyland
Digby's frustration isn't entirely unfounded. Check out the comments this morning for her YouTube videos, or even on some fan sites, and you see clashes between her fans and those calling her out as the next Milli Vanilli.

It's a ludicrous knock. Digby is the architect of her own success. Her video victories would have never materialized if her acoustic recordings hadn't risen to the top through the finicky filtering that's at the very heart of YouTube's democratization process.

We may never know whether there would have been a little anti-corporate bias if she'd presented herself as a signed artist, but musical appreciation is something that defies both figurative and literal labels.

"I have so many dear friends who were signed to the biggest record labels in the world, made amazing albums, and were DROPPED," she writes in her Journal-thumping blog entry. "I knew that if I didn't do something, that I would end up like my friends."

Digby's position isn't unusual. Major labels often stockpile talent, by signing acts to major deals without ever getting around to releasing their music. It's often a tactical move. I know it. I've lived through it. My band was signed by Sony's Columbia Records in 1987. We collected cobwebs for two years, until a music executive friend of ours from Arista came over and finally got things going. After a pair of Billboard-charting dance singles, we were let go in 1990.

Digby did the right thing. The incubatory process for a young artist can be stifling. The Internet and the popularity of inventory-free, CD-free digital distribution -- which, according to Apple's Steve Jobs, accounted for 32% of all of last year's releases -- are tools to be used by up-and-coming artists. So don't take this moment away from Digby. She earned it.

However, it's also another nod to Disney's growing role as a music-industry juggernaut. A few years ago, Disney's fledgling label was banking on acts such as Fastball, SHeDAISY, and a Queen revival to make ends meet. These days, it's the belle of the Billboard ball.

As major labels such as Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) and Warner (NYSE: WMG  ) suffer with CD-sale declines that are being only partially offset by digital-music gains, Disney is cleaning house. It's now cashing in on its Disney Channel muscle to give birth to recording stars. Beyond the runaway success of High School Musical, two different Hannah Montana CDs have hit the top spot on Billboard this year. From Raven Simone's Cheetah Girls to giving the Jonas Brothers a second shot at stardom, Disney is a resounding force in the earbuds of our young.

The only puzzle piece that remains to be placed is whether Disney will give Digby her own show, feature her prominently on a hit Disney Channel show, or use her interactive world's claim to fame as the launch pad for a reality series to showcase even more emerging musical artists.

Either way, Digby can put away that umbrella. If anything is raining down, it's opportunity.

Some other stories to save for a rainy day:


Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (3)

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  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2008, at 6:21 PM, BillHallahan wrote:

    The Wall Street Journal got this story wrong.

    The Wall Street Journal article contained factual errors. The post they cited as typical was not representative of what the vast majority of people in the topic. Most were thrilled for Marie. That in itself shows an agenda. The posts are still there, and while it might take some time to find the post they cited, it's very clear the WSJ reporters misrepresented the actual situation.

    Marie Digby never lied. There is no comparison to the lonelygirl case, and by the way, she didn't lie either, at least not as far as I have seen.

    It always struck me that there is a special term in journalism, i.e. "Investigative journalism."

    Here's the other, more accurate side of the story in Marie Digby's own words.

    http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&f...

    Link broken so it will be visible:

    http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?

    fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=4165438

    &blogID=307265009

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2008, at 6:22 PM, BillHallahan wrote:

    (Please delete this line, and my previous post.)

    The Wall Street Journal got this story wrong.

    The Wall Street Journal article contained factual errors. The post they cited as typical was not representative of what the vast majority of people in the topic wrote. Most were thrilled for Marie. That in itself shows an agenda. The posts are still there, and while it might take some time to find the post they cited, it's very clear the WSJ reporters misrepresented the actual situation.

    Marie Digby never lied. There is no comparison to the lonelygirl case, and by the way, she didn't lie either, at least not as far as I have seen.

    It always struck me that there is a special term in journalism, i.e. "Investigative journalism."

    Here's the other, more accurate side of the story in Marie Digby's own words.

    http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&f...

  • Report this Comment On July 25, 2008, at 4:52 PM, BillHallahan wrote:

    I apologize for responding again, however, I have more information now.

    The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article was wrong about Marié Digby. To anyone who followed her videos, it's obvious that Marié Digby has always been herself.

    The article stated:

    -----

    "Ms. Digby's MySpace and YouTube pages don't mention Hollywood Records. Until last week, a box marked "Type of Label" on her MySpace Music page said, "None."

    -----

    However, she had joined MySpace in 2004, roughly 2 years before she was signed, and she merely didn't bother to update a setting, and she'd probably forgotten that setting even existed. I signed up for a MySpace music page, and it could even be missed when first signing up. And, since months after she recorded her CD, there was no indication it was ever going to be released, I wouldn't expect that it would even cross her mind to change her status to signed, even if she was still aware of that setting. Note, her CD didn't come out until approximately 2 years after she was signed, and approximately 4 years after she joined MySpace.

    The article went on to state:

    -----

    "After inquiries from The Wall Street Journal, the entry was changed to "Major," though the label still is not named."

    -----

    Makes sense to me. There is no point in naming a record label when there is no indication they are going to release your CD. And, given that, who she was signed with has just as little relevance as that she was signed. (Note, the CD, titled "Unfold" finally came out on April 8, 2008. Buy it, it's wonderful).

    The Wall Street Journal article also contained:

    -----

    'Most of Ms. Digby's new fans seem pleased to believe that they discovered an underground sensation.

    -----

    In fact, the vast majority of the posts were about her music, and not about "discovering" her. For most of us viewers, a huge number of people had already seen her videos when we found her, which were posted long before the WSJ article, so we could hardly claim to have 'discovered her.'

    The term "feigning amateur status", used in the WSJ article is completely ridiculous. Marié Digby posted music videos, and expressed enthusiasm, and hope. She was largely unknown outside of Los Angeles.

    Marié Digby has posted that a Wall Street reporter talked to Marié Digby for about an hour, but they never asked the questions that would have cleared this up. Instead, they took one response, which merely meant that her signed status wasn't relevant to her goals (and frankly, would have seemed ridiculous in the videos), as meaning she was hiding it.

    There were radio station interviews, before the WSJ article, where she mentioned being signed. If she were hiding it, she would have hid it there too.

    I gather Marié Digby's family is rather well off. She never mentioned that in her videos either. I wouldn’t say she was, "feigning middle class status," but I'm sure some people would! Sad!

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2009, at 9:36 PM, usedtosellonebay wrote:

    Getting press passes and backstage passes to concerts is a lot easier than people think. I am really surprised that more people are not doing it. I have been attending concerts since I was fifteen and have gotten backstage to more than thirty-five concerts in the last 10 years.

    I have met most of my favorite performers and have a collection of memories that will last me a lifetime. I have tons of pictures, music, t shirts and autographs that I obtained throughout the years. My main suggestion is getting your foot in the door. There is actually a book that I saw at the library that had quite a bit on info about the subject. The book has a website address http://www.igotbackstagepasses.com/ where you can order it.

    I have read a few books on the subject but this one was the most complete and did not have lame info that I have seen in other books. This book uses some of the exact same methods that I use. Once you get your foot in the door, you can easily get backstage. People think that you have to “trick” people into letting you backstage but that is not likely. I have learned that once you know someone on the inside, you are set for life. I now know someone at every venue in my city.

    So my advice is to take it step by step and read some books on the subject. It is well worth your time and effort. While you are backstage, behave yourself and stay out of people’s way and don’t argue with anyone or you will get a one way ticket from where you came from and will never be invited back. I have seen this happen a few times. So go for it, there is nothing more exciting than getting close to these bigger than life stars.

    Igotbackstagepasses, ultimate backstage book, jonas brothers backstage passes.

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  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2009, at 9:36 PM, usedtosellonebay wrote:

    Getting press passes and backstage passes to concerts is a lot easier than people think. I am really surprised that more people are not doing it. I have been attending concerts since I was fifteen and have gotten backstage to more than thirty-five concerts in the last 10 years.

    I have met most of my favorite performers and have a collection of memories that will last me a lifetime. I have tons of pictures, music, t shirts and autographs that I obtained throughout the years. My main suggestion is getting your foot in the door. There is actually a book that I saw at the library that had quite a bit on info about the subject. The book has a website address http://www.igotbackstagepasses.com/ where you can order it.

    I have read a few books on the subject but this one was the most complete and did not have lame info that I have seen in other books. This book uses some of the exact same methods that I use. Once you get your foot in the door, you can easily get backstage. People think that you have to “trick” people into letting you backstage but that is not likely. I have learned that once you know someone on the inside, you are set for life. I now know someone at every venue in my city.

    So my advice is to take it step by step and read some books on the subject. It is well worth your time and effort. While you are backstage, behave yourself and stay out of people’s way and don’t argue with anyone or you will get a one way ticket from where you came from and will never be invited back. I have seen this happen a few times. So go for it, there is nothing more exciting than getting close to these bigger than life stars.

    Igotbackstagepasses, ultimate backstage book, jonas brothers backstage passes.

    Igotbackstagepasses, ultimate backstage book, jonas brothers backstage passes.

    Igotbackstagepasses, ultimate backstage book, jonas brothers backstage passes.

    Igotbackstagepasses, ultimate backstage book, jonas brothers backstage passes.

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